A local myth in Nirosha’s Sri Lankan town made her believe that a woman’s period is “bad blood leaving the body.” In fact, in this Buddhist community, some parents don’t allow their daughters to go to temple when they are having their periods.
Nirosha was 14 when she joined Global Fund for Women grantee partner, Young Women’s Action Group (YWAG). At YWAG’s M-Center, she learned the truth about her sexual and reproductive health. She then gathered others girls her age to share her new knowledge. Nirosha is 19 now, and when her friends have questions about their rights and health, they come to her.
Young women like Nirosha visit the M-Center to learn important life and career skills that support their economic and social independence. The M-Center was so successful that YWAG has seen a 250 percent increase in visitors since its inception in 2007.
Global Fund, with partner Nike Foundation's Grassroots Girls Initiative (GGI), supports YWAG because young women are among the most economically vulnerable. Over the last fifteen years, the female unemployment rate has remained double that of men in Sri Lanka. The majority of women in the workforce are in the informal sector, outside of governmental jurisdiction and labor laws. Lakmali Kothalawala, Executive Director of YWAG, says rural women leave their families to stay at boarding houses and then work at the garment factories. Knowing very little about their sexual health and legal rights, they get involved with men and often experience violence.
“We had to do something!” said Lakmali, who also provides legal counseling for YWAG members. “With education [women] have strength to stand up on their own feet.”
At this juncture in Sri Lanka’s history, coming out of nearly thirty years of civil war, it is particularly imperative for young women to create an equal space in the nation’s economy and assert their rights.
“We have to protect women’s rights. If not, then everyday they will fade away,” said Nirosha.